Louis Powell Harvey
|Nativity & Early Life,
Self Dependence, Education,
Talent as an Editor,
Popular Politician, Marriage,
Life as a Merchant, Reformer,
Services as an Officer of the State,
Words Concerning the Death of Senator Douglas, Executive Message, Collecting Supplies for the Battlefield,
Visit to Pittsburg Landing,
Affecting Interview with the Soldiers,
LOUIS, POWEL HARVEY, who became Governor of the State of Wisconsin in January, 1862, and whose life was so mysteriously and mournfully cut off a few months afterward, was born in East Haddam, Connecticut, July 22d, 1820. When he was eight years of age his parents removed to Strongville, Ohio, where, laboring themselves, they taught their son the honorable employment of manual labor. He early manifested a commendable ambition to rise to some importance in the world, and as his parents could not lavish on him the means and facilities of wealth, he was not ruined in that manner, but summoned himself to the true method for every youth - that of self-dependence. He was thrown entirely upon his own resources before he was nineteen years of age.
He entered the Freshman class of Western Reserve
College, at Hudson, Ohio, in 1837. Soon after Governor Harvey's death, Reverend Mr. Brown,
in a meeting at La Crosse, spoke of him thus: "As class-mates and members of the same
literary society, and boarders in the same family, our acquaintance was of the most
intimate kind. I can bear testimony to his early character, that it was without a stain.
He was a noble youth. With brilliant talents, good scholarship, and pleasing manners, he
became a favorite among his fellow students. He was impulsive in temperament, of unbounded
wit and humor, yet chastened by Christian principle. He possessed that rare quality of
true nobility, a promptness to retract an error, or confess a wrong. When a sharp word or
sally of wit had wounded the feelings of a fellow student, I have seen him repair to his
room, and with a warm grasp of his hand, and a tear in his eye, say: 'brother, forgive me
if I have hurt your feelings!' " Being straitened in means, he worked a portion of
his leisure hours at bookbinding. In the junior year he was compelled to leave and seek
employment to enable him stay to pursue his studies."
Resuming his studies, be was obliged to leave college before graduating, on account of his health. He subsequently engaged as teacher in Nicholsonville, Kentucky, and afterward as tutor in Woodward College, Cincinnati. After two years spent in the latter position, be came to Kenosha (then Southport) in this State, and there opened an academy in December, 1841. Two years after, he added to the useful and laborious calling of teacher that of editor of the Southport American, a Whig newspaper, which he made a spirited and vigorous sheet. He was earnest, genial, courteous; and thought a politician, he won favor with all classes, was often put forward for office by his party, and generally, or always, ran ahead of his ticket. He industriously cultivated the art of addressing an audience, manifested decided ability as a speaker, and afterward distinguished himself as a good platform orator, and an excellent debater in the State Legislature.
Like his gubernatorial predecessor, he was postmaster a short time, under President Tyler's administration. He always manifested a deep interest in the public schools of the State, and though rising in usefulness and public esteem, he never became inflated with pride or conceit, which, with many, is at once the index of their weakness and the cause of their fall. He was a consistent and decided temperance man, abstaining from all intoxicating drinks, as a beverage, and was a communicant in a Congregational Church.
In 1847 he married Miss Cordelia Perrine, and removed
to Clinton, Rock County, where he entered upon mercantile life. In the autumn of that year
he was elected to the Second Constitutional Convention of the State, in which he was a
highly influential member, and where his powers as an able debater were brought into
useful requisition. Subsequently be became a resident of Shopiere, the same county, which
proved to be his last earthly home - and of his services there, Reverend Mr. Brown, before
quoted, thus speaks: " He purchased the water power, tore down the distillery, that
had cursed the village, and in its place built a flouring mill and established a retail
store, and exerted a great influence in reforming the morals of the place. A neat stone
edifice was built, mainly by his munificence, for the Congregational Church, of which he
was a member, and his uncle, Revered 0. S. Powell, settled as its pastor. It is a
coincidence worthy of remark, that Rev. Mr. Powell came to his death also by drowning, at
Fort Atkinson, July 2d, 1855."
He was soon after elected to be State Senator (as a Whig in 1853 and again in 1855 & 1857 as a Republican ), then to be Secretary of State (in 1859), and in the autumn of 1861, to be Governor of Wisconsin. His rapid rise from one step of important public trust to another, shows the high satisfaction he gave, at least to his own political party (Republican), and also indicates that he was no dead weight upon his party to sink it.
At a meeting of the citizens of Madison to express their sentiments in regard to the death of Honorable Stephen A. Douglas, Mr. Harvey - then Secretary of State - paid him a merited tribute for his patriotic position relative to the rebellion, and near the close of his remarks indulged in a strain which, alas! soon became very fitting in regard to himself. Two sentences were these: "We may well wonder at the inscrutable Providence which snatches him from us, in the full vigor of his manlihood and the maturity of his powers, just when, apparently, he was entering upon a new career of usefulness.....Laden with matured deeds and honors, and blooming with promises and powers for greater usefulness to his country and humanity, we mournfully cosign him to the grave and to history."
Governor Harvey's message after his inauguration received very high commendation throughout the State, as simple, pointed, and unambitious in style, systematically and clearly arranged, exceedingly comprehensive and suggestive as to the state of the country, and wise in recommendations for the action of the Legislature. Many said that no message from any other Executive of the State had ever excelled it; some, that none had equaled it. It was the first annual message after the opening of the war. "No previous Legislature has convened under equal incentives to a disinterested zeal in public service. The occasion pleads with you in rebuke of all the meaner passions, admonishing to the exercise of a conscientious patriotism becoming the representatives of a Christian people called in God's providence to pass through the furnace of a great trial of their virtue and of the strength of the Government." Concerning our duty to the General Government he said: "In every emergency the Administration should be made to feel the strength and consistency of that will by which the destiny of a great nation was confined to its direction. I do not deny sharing largely in the prevailing impatience; I do not underestimate the demoralizing influence of delay upon armies and public opinion; but I believe the Administration means as honestly by the country - as honestly by the sacred cause of liberty-as any faction opposing it. It possesses alone the power to act for us; and we must, perforce, stand by it, or take the alternative of faction and ruin to our cause. History teems with examples of the malign influence of discontent, and the uneasy ambition to lead in times like these."
Immediately after the battle of Pittsburg Landing, Governor Harvey asked of Surgeon General Wolcott a list of such articles, and their relative quantities, as would be most serviceable on the battle-field, and the doctor telegraphed accordingly.
The articles were soon at the command of the
Executive - sixty-one boxes from Milwaukee, thirteen from Madison, nine from Janesville,
six from Beloit, and one from Clinton and he was on his way to the bloody scenes of the
war - his last journey from the State, the last earthly one he ever made.
Major Jones M. Bundy, then of the Milwaukee Wisconsin,, reported the Governor's conduct on the route as follows: "Although pressed with a thousand cares in making the arrangements for our trip, he made it his duty, at Cairo, to visit our wounded in the hospital boats, taking them each by the hand, and cheering them, more than can well be described. As he came round among them, his heartful of kindness, and his face showing it, tears of joy would run down the cheeks of those brave fellows, who had borne the battle's brunt unmoved, and they lost at once the languor which had settled on them. Then, at Mound City and Paducah, in the hospitals and on the hospital boats, it would have moved a heart of stone to witness the interviews between the Governor and our wounded heroes. There was something more than formality in those visits, and the men knew it by sure instinct. When we went ashore at Savannah for a few hours, on our way to Pittsburg, these scenes became still more affecting.
Over two hundred of our wounded were there, suffering from neglect and lack of kind care. The news of the Governor's arrival spread, as if by magic, and at every house those who could stand clustered around him, and those who had not raised their heads for days sat up, their faces aglow with gratitude for the kind looks, and words, and acts, which showed their Governor's tender care for them. At times these scenes were so affecting that even the Governor's self-control failed him, and he could not trust himself to talk." During the passage he stood by the flag of the Cross as well as by that of his country. When ascending the river to Pittsburg, a day for national thanksgiving occurred, when, at a meeting in the cabin, the President's proclamation was read, and Governor Harvey joining in the religious services, made a religious as well as patriotic address.
Daniel Esquire, of Watertown, who was with him in that journey, remarks: "Such always was the high respect for the Governor, that no rough language or conduct, in his presence, could escape from even those accustomed to such things elsewhere."
When he reached the camp of the Wisconsin regiments
at Pittsburg Landing, the scene was interesting and touching beyond description. There
were hundreds of sick and wounded men who had been rushed into battle only a few weeks
after leaving their State, losing terribly in comrades and officers, and were now sunken
in suffering and gloom. When it was announced that their Governor had come, an electric
thrill of joy started them up from saddened groups, and from couches wet with tears and
blood, and collected them in crowds to feast their eyes on one smiling face, and to hear
words of cheer and praise from the chief magistrate of their much loved, far distant
Wisconsin. He worked unremittingly among, the men to alleviate, in every possible way,
their suffering and to fill them with courage for the present and the future - an effort
they well repaid. He carefully ascertained who had distinguished themselves in the battle,
and took their names in order to promote them-a good resolve he did not live to fulfill.
On Saturday morning, April 19th, Governor Harvey bade farewell to the soldiers at Pittsburg Landing, and went down to Savannah, ten miles below, on the Tennessee River. He was not expected to take a steamer for Cairo until the next morning, and some of the company had retired for the night, on board the Dunleith, lying at the wharf. But at ten o'clock in the evening the Minnehaha hove in sight, the party were aroused, and Governor Harvey, with others, took position near the edge and fore part of the Dunleith awaiting the opportunity to pass to the approaching boat.
As the bow of the Minnehaha rounded close to the party on the Dunleith, the Governor stepped back on one side, either for convenience or to get beyond harm, and the night being dark and rainy, and the timber of the boat slippery, by some mis-step he fell between the two steamers. Dr. Wilson, of Sharon, being near, immediately reached down his cane, which the Governor grasped with so much force as to pull it from his hands. Dr. Clark, of Racine, jumped into the water, made himself fast to the Minnehaha and thrust his body in the direction of the Governor, who, he thinks, once almost reached him, but the current was too strong, the drowning man, it is supposed, was drawn under a flatboat just below, and when his life was despaired of, Dr. Wolcott and General Brodhead Milwaukee, and others of the party, made diligent and long search to recover the body of the lost one, but in vain, some children found it sixty-five miles below (14 days later).
Citizens there buried the remains, which were disinterred, brought to Madison, laid in State in the Assembly Chamber, and buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, near the Capitol, Reverend M. P. Kinney, of Janesville, conducting the religious services. Lieutenant Governor Edward Salomon entered the Gubernatorial chair, and issued a proclamation for a day of rest and cessation from business, to commemorate the death of the late Governor, and on the day appointed, Thursday, May 1st, at the State Capitol, introduced the public services by a brief appropriate address, and President Chapin, of Beloit College, pronounced a fitting and eloquent eulogy. Numerous other eulogies and funeral sermons were delivered throughout the State, the press was draped in mourning and teemed with the language of sorrow, and the people of the State were deeply moved with grief. The language of the Psalmist came to the thoughts and lips of some - I said, 0 my God, take me not away in the midst of my days;" and many chided themselves because they had not more thoughtfully and fervently prayed that the Lord would not take away the late Governor of the Commonwealth in the midst of his days.
Here is a man who has not been generally appreciated at his full worth by the people of Wisconsin, owing probably to the fact that the few months he was permitted to serve as Governor did not afford an opportunity for him to become familiar to the masses, either in person or officially, while his unnatural death occurred when the mighty tragedies of the Rebellion overshadowed all things else and almost buried them forever.
After the death of Mr. Harvey his wife entered the army as a nurse, and there carried forward as best she could without the backing and authority which he enjoyed as Governor, the noble work begun by her husband and which resulted in making her a widow. it is doubtful whether if he had lived, he could have accomplished more for our soldiers and soldiers' widows and orphans, than stands credited to his indomitable and self-sacrificing consort.
Several attempts have been made to induce the State to erect a suitable public monument to the memory of Gov. Harvey, which, though apparently sustained by public sentiment, always resulted to failure.
He certainly lost his life for his country, and while performing a duty not required or expected of Governors. besides being a man of good ability and education, Gov. Harvey was large-hearted and philanthropic in an eminent degree. He was a practical, generous Christian, ever eager to right any wrong he might have done and to help the poor, the weak and the suffering. he was truly a good man.
Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion, Wm DeLoss Love, 1866
Military History of Wisconsin, Quiner, 1866
Gov. Harvey's parents were David Harvey and Almeira Powell. He had one daughter who died in infancy.
(for Mrs. Harvey's story, please see her page in our "People" section)